Demand for rBST-free milk surges

Northeast's largest dairies get rid of artificial hormone

Though the controversy over the use of a genetically modified dairy hormone, bovine somatotropin or rBST, has been dormant for a decade, the issue is alive once again. More and more Americans, particularly new parents, are refusing to buy conventional milk that has been treated with it. In spite of the fact that agribusinesses insist that rBST-treated milk is completely safe, young mothers are playing it cautious – resulting in the 25% increase a year in organic milk sales, and a hefty growth in sales of hormone-free milk as well.

“Explosion in the industry”
Monsanto developed the synthetic hormone, which mimics a naturally occurring hormone in cattle. Known to farmers as POSILAC, it increases milk production by an extra 140 pounds per two-week period. Surveys from 2002 estimate that 22% of US cows are injected with it.

rBST-free milk is priced higher than conventional milk, yet remains substantially less than organic. “It seems to be an explosion in the industry,” said Kurt Williams, general manager of Lanco-Pennland Milk Producers of the mid-Atlantic region.

The increased demand for rBST-free milk has been dramatic, according to Greg Wickham, general manager with Dairy Marketing Services, which transports and markets milk for 8,000 dairy farms in the northeastern US. Wickham estimates that before this summer demand for rBST-free milk amounted to about 15% of total volume of DMS milk sold to fluid processors to make drinking milk. By next summer, Wickham anticipates that demand could jump to more than 50%.

Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk and dairy processor and distributor, no longer accepts milk from hormone-treated cows at a large plant in New Jersey, which supplies milk to the New York metropolitan area. Dean is also offering rBST-free products in New England, where consumer demand has been strong. This regional conversion is the first to happen in the country, and was inspired by the success of smaller Northeastern dairies in the rBST-free market, such as H P Hood.

Trend spreading to other regions
Darigold, owned by the Northwest Dairy Association, recently switched to rBST-free products, as have other Northwest dairies. The trend is also spreading to the Midwest and Southwest. Kemps Select of Minnesota has seen sales of rBST-free whole milk rise to 55% in the past year. Shamrock Farms, a major dairy in Arizona, converted recently to rBST-free in all of its products.

“I think it’s going to become a competitive disadvantage if you are not rBST-free,” said Randy Eronimous of Darigold.

Monsanto is feeling the pressure, sending brochures to its farmers stressing how much money they would lose if they quit using the hormone. Kevin McCarthy of Banc of America Securities estimates that Monsanto will make $250 million this year from sales of POSILAC.

Critics cite possible links to higher cancer in humans from the hormone. Effects on cows include udder inflammation, requiring more antibiotics. “It’s like steroids for athletes,” said Stephen Taylor, New Hampshire’s commissioner of agriculture, markets and food and a dairy farmer.

(Sources: The New York Times, Pioneer Press,, Boston Globe)

© Copyright November 2006, The Organic & Non-GMO Report